First Pitch: The Price of the Free Agent Pitchers That Make Sense For the Pirates

One of my favorite articles of the off-season is Jon Heyman’s top free agent list with contract predictions. That list came out today, and while it didn’t have the previous format, where an executive and an agent gave their predictions, I feel that the same input was sought out to get the salary estimates they have. As with any prediction article, it shouldn’t be taken as gospel, but is fun to read and look at what players are projected to receive.

Heyman’s list is now the third of the three big off-season prediction articles of this type. He joins MLBTR and the FanGraphs crowdsource numbers, with the latter revolving around fan input, but still being pretty entertaining to see how baseball fans from all teams come together to collectively view these players.

Here is a look at some of the notable players for the Pirates this off-season, and what they’re expected to receive in free agency, based on these three projections.

Ivan Nova

Heyman: 4/$48

MLBTR: 4/$52

FanGraphs: 3/$42.8

The average values are about the same, with Nova getting $12-14 M over a 3-4 year span. Heyman and MLBTR have him at four years, which would be similar to the Francisco Liriano and J.A. Happ values from previous years, just with one extra guaranteed year. The current rumors have him getting offers in Happ’s range. I could see the fourth year if some team wanted to spend big to get him, considering he’s widely viewed as the second best starting pitcher on the market, behind Rich Hill.

Edinson Volquez

Heyman: 2/$20

MLBTR: 1/$8

FanGraphs: 3/$29.4

There’s a bit of a divide here in terms of the commitment, but not so much in the price, with Volquez expected to get around $10 M per year. He’s not a bad bounce back candidate, as he is still capable of pitching close to 200 innings a year, still has good velocity, and can still get ground balls and strikeouts. He might also benefit from a move back to the NL, and back to the Pirates, where he posted some of the best numbers of his career.

Rich Hill

Heyman: 3/$50

MLBTR: 3/$50

FanGraphs: 3/$47.6

There is a consensus here that Hill will receive three years and around $50 M. I don’t think he’d be an option for the Pirates, but I wanted to include him because he’s the top option on the market, and they had interest in him last year as a bounce back guy. The interesting thing here is that, one year ago today, the top two options on the market (Hill, Nova) would have been pretty low-key additions for any team. Now they’re getting estimates of $40-50 M over 3-4 years. It makes you think that the best approach for the Pirates would be finding the next breakout guy. Which brings me to…

Andrew Cashner

Heyman: 1/$7

MLBTR: 1/$8

FanGraphs: 3/$27.1

The FanGraphs figure is way ahead of Heyman and MLBTR, and that could be due to the perception that Cashner is one of the best bounce back guys on the market. I really can’t see him getting three years, or taking three years. If he takes a one year deal, he has the chance to rebound, and turn his good season into a $40-50 M deal or more. Just like Volquez, he still has the velocity, and still has the ability for strikeouts and ground balls. The big concern here is health and the ability to pitch innings, as he’s thrown 132 innings or less in two of the last three years.

Derek Holland

Heyman: 1/$7

MLBTR: 1/$6

FanGraphs: 2/$17

This is the guy who has been linked to the Pirates early in the off-season, and I wrote yesterday how I don’t see him as a good bounce back candidate, since his upside seems lower than the traditional Pirates reclamation project. If he’s projected to get $6-7 M for one year, then I’d rather go with Andrew Cashner for $1-2 M more, as there’s more upside with Cashner.


I’m not going to list all three values for the relievers, as there seems to be a pretty strong consensus on their values. I’m also not including top guys like Mark Melancon or Kenley Jansen, as the Pirates probably won’t be in the market for those pitchers. Greg Holland isn’t quite in that category, but he’s projected for $20 M over two years by Heyman, and I don’t see the Pirates spending that either.

A lot of the mid-tier relievers are projected for $6 M a year over multiple years. Heyman has Brett Cecil and Sergio Romo both getting $18 M over three years. Neftali Feliz is projected to get $12 M over two years. Joe Blanton is projected for $10 M over two years. Most of the stronger relievers will require a multi-year commitment and $5-6 M per year.

I think the Pirates would be more likely to go the value reliever route like they did last year when they added Feliz and Juan Nicasio for a combined $7 M. But the relief market is interesting in terms of trade candidates. Tony Watson is projected to make $5.9 M this year in his final year of arbitration, and could have a lot of value for a team that is either unwilling to go multiple years on a reliever, or for a team that misses out on all of the mid-tier relievers, especially the lefties.

Other Notable Players

Sean Rodriguez has been linked to the Pirates again. He’s projected for two years, $10 M from Heyman, and two years, $12 M from MLBTR. The only way I see that happening for the Pirates is if they either moved Andrew McCutchen or Josh Harrison.

Former Pirates Jon Niese and Clayton Richard are projected for one year and $6 M by Heyman.

Pedro Alvarez is projected for one year, $9 M. He’s not an option for the Pirates, but this shows how much value the DH spot gave him, as he didn’t have to worry about defense dragging him down.

**Almost Every Player on the Indianapolis Top 10 Prospects List Made the Majors in 2016. Wrapping up our season recaps with the Indianapolis top 10 prospect list, which featured a lot of players who reached the majors this year.

**Neal Huntington Discusses the Pirates Budget, Andrew McCutchen, Jung Ho Kang. Some good stuff here from an interview on David Todd’s show.

**AFL: Surprise Clinches Division on the Final Day with a 4-2 Win. The Pirates’ AFL affiliate will play in the championship game on Saturday.

  • David Hernandez looks like a good reliever pickup.

    Great curveball, good velocity on four seam, low Contact%, high SwStr%, coming off season where he struggled in Philly’s stadium.

  • Interesting thought: Nathan Eovaldi. Out for 2017 with Tommy John, just DFA by Yanks. How about signing him to a deal and having him on 60 day DL…that arm would have Andrew Miller bullpen type upside. Sign him now while he’s not healthy so that you have him once he is. Get his mechanics right and put him in pen. A hell of an arm for free-ish.

  • So when do we hear final roster decision with 40- man deadline tonight? The fact they are waiting so long on announcements makes me think cards are being dealt.

  • Charley Morton’s agent has to be one of the best

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    November 18, 2016 2:54 pm

    This shows you two things:
    (1) Why the Nova trade was a stupid one.
    (2) Why the Pirates need to stop worrying about picking up reclamation projects, and trust their own starting pitching prospects – Cole, Glasnow, Kuhl, Taillon, and Brault.

  • Looks like Cashner is going to the Rangers so there goes that option.

    • Took a one-year deal, too.

      • Probably watch one reclamation project after another sign elsewhere while waiting to be outbid for Nova. Then get stuck dumpster diving like last season.

        Ahh, the life of a Pirate (fan).

        • The Pirates are going to have to trade Cutch for pitching…I’m just not sure I trust NH to make the right deal when it comes time. We don’t need an OF prospect…we need controlable pitching

          • It’ll be the same issue he faced with Walker.

            How many teams interested in Andrew McCutchen have his equivalent or better starting pitcher to spare? Who’s going to be comfortable gearing up for a playoff run by acquiring Cutch at the expense of a starter?

            I have absolutely no reason to believe Huntington *wanted* to end up with Jon Niese last year, but that’s what the market provided given his extremely narrow focus.

            I think the best bet is to target upper level top prospects and have a reclamation-type starter thrown in. Something like Cutch to the Dodgers for Jose de Leon and Brandon McCarthy.

            • I think there are a couple teams NMR: Cleveland and Washington. Washington made it to the world series without Salazar or Carrasco and need an OF…also they have a DH spot he could occasionally fill as well. Tanner Roark is a nice arm only starting arb that would he a nice piece in return for Cutch.

              I don’t disagree with you. I am troubled that IF that is the basket into which we put the majority of our eggs our pitching staff won’t be very good.

              • Those are great ideas, Jared.

                I’m a little skeptical that a small market team like the Indians would give up cost-controlled pitching of that caliber, but rekindling the deal with Washington makes a lot of sense.

                • I have one other deal for you, NMR. The Dodgers are looking for a 2B…how about Harrison+Cutch for Alex Wood, Hyung-Jin Ryu, and Walker Buehler? If Wood and Ryu could stay healthy they’d be a great addition. There is some risk with their health issues. You don’t take on a ton of payroll in the deal either.

                  I think Cleveland is ideal or Washington…Roark makes a TON of sense honestly. We will see…I wouldn’t mind the above deal either though…especially if you re-sign SRod.

                  • I’m not sure Harrison really adds anything to that deal and the Pirates need him, and Ryu is essentially untouchable after not pitching for two years, but the remainder is pretty close to my favorite deal of the moment…

                    Cutch for Brandon McCarthy, Jose de Leon, and cash. de Leon upgrades the back end of the rotation immediately and McCarthy is the pseudo-reclamation arm with upside they’ve been looking for.

                    • If I’m doing a deal with the Dodgers I want Wood involved. You’re talking about a guy who has never thrown even 190 IP, I get it. But he’s 25, going to be 26, and has put up some really good numbers…3.18FIP, 3.29 xFIP last year and a 1.3 WAR in only 60 IP. He had a 2.6 WAR in both 2015 and 2014. And a lefty to boot.

                      I want THAT guy in any deal. Keep him healthy and we would end up with a lefty with a career 8 k/9 who has averaged 2 WAR per over last 4 years and that’s only in less than 500 career IP!

                    • IMO, Wood is a star in waiting. A LH SP who got his career started early and has good numbers.
                      I always get Travis and Alex Wood mixed up, but Travis might be worth a shot as a starter.

                  • I’ve had an eye on Wood for several weeks. He’s depth for them and not expected to compete for a starting job. That is a deal that might work.
                    Roark would be a nice pick up, but don’t see that as likely to happen.

            • You just don’t ask for a starting pitcher prospect. McCarthy and a REAL blue chip hitting prospect. Near ML ready (similar to Austin Meadows)

          • Or- What does the FA market for starters look like after next season? Maybe if it looks stronger, you chill this year and go with internal options and trade Cutch now to load up for 2018? If they trade cutch, there is no playoffs in 2018. I don’t care what you say, just like we failed last year with him underperformaing, you aren’t going to replace his 6 wins from 2015 with anyone you are getting back via trade. Better off trading for a huge blue chip AA prospect that can hit for power or have a high OBP and run like the wind. We could use either.

  • Where does Travis Wood fit into the 3 estimates and do you think he makes sense for the Buccos. Can try him as starter then use in BP if that doesn’t work.

    • From Heyman: 3yrs/$15M.

      • Take Wood and Hammel- ALL DAY, take Blanton too. You’d have enough bullpen flexibility to maybe not need a closer and cover some of the short starters. Wood should be stretched back out to be a 2 inning guy, as should Blanton. Hammel anchors te 3/4 spot in the rotation.

  • Tim W

    Are First Pitch’s no longer free? I linked it on the PBC Asylum and guys are only getting the first paragraph.

    • They aren’t. I changed that during the off-season, since there are a reduced number of articles on the site, and I didn’t want to give half or a third of them away for free.

      Plus, the idea of giving FP away for free was to give a sample of the site and hopefully lead to an increase in subscriptions. We didn’t see a great increase after the switch. Basically, we were just giving a free article to people who have no intentions of subscribing.

  • I can’t imagine the bucs paying for Nova. I’m hoping they can get volquez, which is depressing.
    They may trade cutch for a controllable starter as well.

    • Heyman: 4/$48

      MLBTR: 4/$52

      FanGraphs: 3/$42.8

      If he settles for any of these numbers, the Bucs can and should take the plunge. It is far more doable than the original supposed asking price of 5/$70. At some point, if you want to be a legitimate contender, you have to move away from the reclamation projects of the world.

  • If Charlie Morton can pull 2/$14m in this market, then 1/$8m for Cashner or Volquez sure sounds like wishful thinking. Don’t see why Volquez would take a pillow contract at his age, and Cashner may very well prefer multi-year security with his injury history.

    This is depressing.

    • Looks like you can make that $10 million for Cashner. Teams are clearly paying for potential as much as they are results. I was more than surprised at the second year for Chuck. I liked the idea of Morton on a one year mutli inning role but if you told me they signed him for 2 years, 14 mil I’d be pissed. When he signed that contract my immediate thought was – this is bad if this is where the market is right now for possible starters.
      I think teams will get desperate and give Nova that 4th year and if a team needs to go an extra $2 million a year for a guy like Volquez to get it done I think the Pirates are out of the race on both pitchers. I’m not optimistic. They’ll have to overpay for a pitcher and I don’t see the Pirates doing that, almost ever. I wonder if there’s anyone out there with a bloated salary that the Pirates could trade for if the other team picks up some salary relief. Basically AJ from the Yankees all over again.

      • I’d say the increased likelihood of trading Cutch and the lack of any connection to Free Agent starters is too coincidental to be just that. I’ll be very surprised if the Pirates sign a free agent starter at this point.

        • I wouldn’t be completely shocked if we signed someone…I think Volquez makes a ton of sense. I just don’t think we will end up with Nova.

    • Yes, it most certainly is depressing. When one considers the cost for pitching today, and the return on the investment, or more accurately in most cases, the lack of return, it is stupefying to me the money that these guys are getting. Can you believe the money that Atlanta gave Colon and Dickey?

  • Tim, we all know Jeff Locke is a failed starter. He’s proved it for multiple years. Is there any chance he could be an effective two inning reliever? Lefties normally have longer careers than righties and it’s not uncommon for failed lefty starters to be effective coming out of the bullpen.

    • I think he could. He had a very limited time as a reliever this year, but saw an increase in strikeouts, a decrease in walks, and better overall numbers compared to his time as a starter. If Zach Duke can make that switch, I think Locke can do the same thing. I’m not sure I’d tender him for another year of arbitration for that role, though.

  • The Pirates flat out had a salary dump last year. They have the money to keep Nova, S -Rod and sign a couple of other players / pitchers that aren’t reclamation projects. Simple terms the money that was going to FL can now go to Nova, MM money can go to S-Rod, Niese money can go Joyce and they will still have money to get pitcher like Holland or Blanton. I agree with other ppl they have traded a lot of prospects for rental players. Uncle Ray eventually will run out of magic, the buccos better start keeping some of these guys they have fixed. Me personally I would like them to sign Nova and EV. EV would be much better than Locke and take some of the pressure off the young pitchers. Also sign Blanton I feel he could kind of show the ropes of the major leagues to all the young guys. And he can eat up a lot of middle innings.

    Cole, Taillon, Nova, Brault/ Kuhl and EV would be a rotation of winning team. Still have Glasnow in triple A that could come up in June for depth or injury but wouldn’t be rushed.

    Bullpen of Trevor Williams, Brault/ Kuhl, Blanton, Watson, Feliz, Bastardo and Niaisco would more than effective

  • If we do sign a one year reclamation project, can we please try to get an option for a second year?

    • Yes….fixing a guy and letting him go after 1 year doesn’t make a lot of sense.
      If Pirates are perceived as a team that can get a pitcher back on track, said pitcher should at least give Bucs option to keep another year or they can try and rebound with some other team that doesn’t do it as well.

    • Great idea for fans and owners, but not for players. There’s nothing in it for them – pitch well and you’re tied to a one year below market contract, pitch poorly and the option is declined, putting you in the same place as you would have been with a one year deal. The player gives away upside for zero return. There’s a reason we don’t see this kind of contract (1+team option) very often for pitchers.

      • And, if it is that way, the up-front cost goes up accordingly, and the amount to decline the option also serves to increase that initial cost. I think the days of trying to find an uninformed agent are long gone.

      • Well you don’t generally offer the second year at the same rate man. Volquez for example- lets say his market is 7 million. 1 year at 7 guaranteed, option year at 10, club option. Noone loses here.

        • If there were a rate that worked for both player and team for that option year, it would stand to reason we would see more 1+team option contracts. We don’t, which suggests to me that equilibrium doesn’t exist in practice.

          Think of all the bounce back contracts given out in the last 5 years. Cashner, Rich Hill, Volquez, Latos, Vogelsong, Gavin Floyd (3 times!), Brandon Beachy (twice), Fister, Lincecum, Brett Anderson, Kazmir… There have been exactly two that were technically 1+1 contracts: Josh Johnson, where a cheaper option year triggered if he made fewer than 15 starts in the first year, and Frankie’s reworked contract in 2014, which was originally a two year deal but the guaranteed second year was replaced by an option year at escalating value when he broke his arm in a home accident. Both outlier cases.

    • “Just give me 25 guys on the last year of their contracts; I’ll win a pennant every year.” — Sparky Anderson

  • Skipping his partial rookie season, Rich Hill has a career 10.4 WAR in 11 seasons – average season WAR of 0.95. In his two good seasons (2007 and 2016), he had a combined WAR of 7.5. In his other 9 seasons, he averaged a WAR of 0.33!
    How in the world does that translate into giving a 37 year old $50 million over 3 years?

    • Good presentation – based on those numbers it does not make any sense for the Pirates to do anything with Hill.

      The fact that Nova’s estimated value went down is more of a reason for the Pirates to try to wrap him up quickly. If they could back-end load a 4 year deal, Nova could be interested. It also leaves the possibility to deal him before his expensive years. His performance in 11 starts down the stretch kept the Pirates in the running late into the season, and he seems comfortable with Cervelli and Searage.

    • What have you done for me lately. Think about it. We are all up in arms about Cutch and he still is a fantastic player but just not as fantastic as years past.

      • There was nothing fantastic about him last year- he was barely average…….if you discount his dreadful defense. We could have pulled Tori Hunter out of retirement and stuck him in center field last year and had similar results

    • Have you seen Rich Hill pitch lately?

      • I’m not denying his talent. Just the concept that he will miraculously average more than a 2.0 WAR over the next three years.

    • If you watch him pitch you would understand why he is valuable. When healthy he is really really good (He didn’t use to be). The issue is he has never been healthy for a full season and you should not expect more then 130 innings. I love Rich Hill but he just doesn’t fit the Pirate profile.

    • The price of pitching and Supply V demand this year. .

    • Because the salary structure in MLB is beyond insane.

    • Rich Hill was hot garbage until he came out of indy ball two years ago, so his career stats have no value here.

    • He’s not the same pitcher he was prior in his career. If you want to value Andrew Miller on his 20’s you’d get about the same result.

  • Was Nova on the team long enough that we could’ve given him a qualifying offer? I know the deadline has past but just curious.

  • Nice Breakdown. Two things: Cashner’s value is perceived as higher because he is also being projected as a reliever. Second: Any value for Jason Hammel?

    • Hammel 3yr/$36M per Heyman.

      • I would take Hammel at 3/$36 and Volquez…andddd Blanton. Lol

        • Hammel is an interesting guy. The Cubs could have traded him and gotten something in return, so why would they dump him. IMO he’d be a nice addition.
          I think Volquez could return, but I’m also starting to think Nova might come back. EV would be less expensive, of course.
          Blanton isn;t said to be really expensive, but he is expected to want multi years. I’d prefer him over Nicaso, especially if the money is close.

          • i think they let him walk to let him decide where to play vs sending him somewhere for a couple of mid level prospects. I read somewhere that those decisions will help Cubs land other FAs. Not sure where that fits on the list of priorities for FAs, but it cant hurt them.

          • I agree with everything in your post except the Blanton vs. Nicasio comment. Nicasio did well once he was taken out of the starting rotation and was placed where he is best suited, which is the bullpen. I think that he has more upside than Blanton at this point in their respective careers.

            • Until the playoffs last year, Blanton was one of the most dependable reliever over the last two years. He’s a valuable addition. Much rather have him over Bastardo.

              Would love Blanton back.

              • I’m fine with Bastardo, but we need someone like Blanton if we don’t go sign a REAL closer.

            • disagree. Nicasio is not a shutdown reliever, he is a decent option for middle relief or 7th inning for an………average team. Blanton is better now at any point in his career so using “this point” as a qualifying term is pretty pointless.

          • I think Hammel is the best option out there for the Pirates- I take him at 3/36 and add Volquez on a 1 year WITH a team option this time, call it 2/20 worst case scenario. I trade Watson and Sign Greg Holland or Melancon in his place. I would sooner thinking about burning down PNC than signing another expensive bench piece, I trade Jaso for anything I can get, a C level prospect and pocket that money to offset a bit of the extra money spent on the reliever. I do not resign Sean rodriguez, and I keep a level eye out for a deal on Cutch, but only that includes an absolute top notch player (not pitcher) since all our recent draft picks have been no power all contact dribble…….you trade him for a young impact bat only (something on par with austin meadows). You nontender Locke for sure.

            The end result of all these moves has us With a rotation of Cole, Taillon, Hammel, Kuhl, Volquez, with hopes that Glasnow can unseat someone or be ready to step in for the first injury. Even with these additions, this is still only an average rotation.

            Your pullpen still has a reasonable closer to keep you from losing games you should win and rivero and nicasio, you’ve got any AAA starter you can move in as a long man, and I’d just as soon keep Hughes and let him rebound from a bad year, I think we can non-tender him and resign him at about a mill/year than the tender would require, and then a couple other middling guys that are interchangable

            Infield with rodriguez and jaso gone, Freese is free to backup third and 1/2 platoon at first behind Bell. Harrison sticks at 2nd with Hansen backing him up and Frazier taking over as the main utility guy. If Kang can at least man shortstop once every two weeks to give mercer a break, I go without a backup shortstop, but make sure to keep a top notch defensive shortstop at AAA in case of an injury to mercer. In the outfield you have Polanco and Marte, I sign a veteran backup as a 4th outfielder to basically be this year’s version of a placeholder until Austin is ready whom can then be a 4th OF afterwards……if we get a top notch piece for Cutch, otherwise you go with cutch and utilize Austin after the all-star break, and just break him in, use him as a DH, rotate your outfielders to give one a day off if we are in contention, or if not and still have cutch, deal him at that point.

            This is the best outcome for us that’s actually reasonable from a budget standpoint that would allow us to have a potential shot at a wc spot.